Mark de Clive-Lowe & the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra: Take the Space Trane
Mark de Clive-Lowe doesn't turn big band music on its head so much as he injects it with new blood.
The title for this project can work as a piece of foreshadowing. There is a Duke Ellington cover inside, but it's not the Strayhorn original "Take the 'A' Train". This is big band music, but it is not firmly rooted in the earth. This is big band jazz that can swing just as well as it can hover in the atmosphere, thanks to some electronically enhanced performances. Take the Space Trane is one of those freak hybrid projects where the two styles coming together somehow hang in perfect balance. One never topples over the other.
If Take the Space Trane bears any resemblance to a remix project, that can be expected. Mark de Clive-Lowe's reputation rests on his DJing and producing duties as well as composing jazz and playing the keys. He wrote all but one song here, and his knack for both skittering dance rhythms and big band swing is a marvel -- one that makes you wonder why the dude isn't a household name all around the world. Perhaps it's just too long a name. The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra can take home a great deal of credit, too. After all, their name is splashed at the top of the cover, alongside Mark de Clive-Lowe's, with the word "Jazz" in red font.
Mark de Clive-Lowe does not waste the listener's time. Right off the bat, a light-as-air electronic beat sets the pace for "Relax...Unwind". Within the first ten seconds of the album, he's letting you know fair and square that this is not your granddad's big band. After the orchestra has been jamming on the chords for a good minute-and-a-half, a thumb pushes down on the record. Halt. The song picks back up again as a fiery mambo backed by the same dance beat as before. The song may be inappropriately named, but it's one hell of an opener. "El Dia Perfecto" works in a similar vein, a rump-shaker propelled by a dance beat owing more to Tito Puente than anyone in the techno scene.
The start of "Money (Don't Let It Catch Ya)" has potential to sink the whole affair, packing more electro-Latin kitsch and quivering synth-bass lines into its first 35 seconds than most jazzbos can tolerate. Somehow, it pulls through into an unconventionally funky number -- difficult to predict but fun to listen to nevertheless. The one Duke moment I mentioned before is the Juan Tizol-penned "Caravan". Though it begins in a manner that would give the youthful regulars at the Cotton Club a moment's pause concerning future generations, Mark de Clive-Lowe and the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra never lose sight of Ellington's spirit. How could they, with notes like that melody? Even with its abrupt ending that once again employs the halt-the-record method yet again, you have to give credit to where it is well played.
The more I listen to Take the Space Trane, the more attention I gladly devote to it. And with this heightened attention comes new-found appreciation, even after numerous spins. For once, I'm actually surprised by how much better an album becomes as I grow "used" to it. As a music writer, I listen to new things all the time and consequently just get "used" to them. But Take the Space Trane goes through a different germination process, almost as if the album were pursuing its target with a subtle fervor. And as its orbit closes in around you, you begin to wonder, just who the hell is this Mark de Clive-Lowe guy? Are the members of the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra getting fair compensation for their skills? And if Take the Space Trane ends up flying under the 2013 music radar, then what is our problem?